Category Archives: Annotated Games

Chess Blindness: Part Three

There have been a few articles on this blog about the causes and effects of chess blindness. This is my third article on chess blindness that was not caused by time pressure. The game was the second time that I played Daniel Herman and it was also my second loss to Daniel. This time, there were no distractions of any kind. I just spaced out and blundered away a Rook!

Because this was the very first time that I played Black against Daniel I played the Modern Defense and then transposed into the Benko Gambit. Originally, I was going to play the Dutch Defense and then I changed my mind for some unknown reason.

Because of the unusual move order I was unsure of the best moves to play during the opening. It seemed to me that Daniel was too. I made some minor opening errors, but no outright blunders until move number 21 when I made a totally unsound sacrifice of my Rook. I did not even consider that White could just play 22. Rxa4!! winning my Rook for a pawn!

I usually try to castle by move number 10, but in this game I could not castle until move number 13. At that point I had equality. After that I played the typical maneuvers that start Black’s queenside attack. On move number 20 I missed a move that would have given me a clear advantage. On the next move I flat out blundered and then resigned. This game is another example of what happens when I fail to consider all of my opponent’s possible replies before I play a move!

Mike Serovey


My 6th Tournament Game: An Error That Reveals An Attempt To Learn

Continuing my series on my first chess tournament, which I played in 1980, I cover my round 6 game, which ended up being the third draw in 6 rounds. There is a pattern here to note: at this USCF 1500-1600 level of play, games very easily end in draws, because of missed opportunities in the middlegame, inappropriate simplification into an endgame, and then inaccurate endgame play leading to a final simplification after which no progress can be made by either side. We already saw this in my round 3 game.

Summary of the game

Having scored 3 out of 5 points so far in the tournament, I got to play someone rated around 1600. I was White.


To my surprise, as Black he played an opening continuation in the Philidor Defense known to be bad. Unfortunately, because I saw the resemblance between the position and the famous 1858 game by Paul Morphy against the Duke of Brunswick and Count Isouard, at move 7 I swung my Queen over to b3 just as Morphy had done, even though because Black’s 6th move was different, this move was harmless. Playing by analogy rather than by calculation is sometimes reasonable, but in this case it was thoughtless.

The result was that Black forced a Queen trade immediately. This combined with the symmetrical Pawn structure meant that in the absence of gross errors, the likely result of the game was a draw. (Recall that in my round 2 game, in a Petroff where the Queens also got traded quickly, my game should have been a draw, but I accidentally won anyway.)

An error that reveals an attempt to learn

In the middlegame, I made a curious and admittedly ugly and poor positional and tactical error of advancing my f-Pawn with 13 f4, to try to undermine Black’s e-Pawn and attack on the King side. This resulted in my isolating my own e-Pawn and then losing it. The resulting simplified position, nevertheless, was easily drawable.

What I want to talk about is the nature of this error. It’s a pretty bad error, but I think it illustrates that sometimes, when progressing in chess, it is common to make an error that nevertheless has clear motivations behind it. Here, I made this error because

  • I wanted to unbalance a dead symmetrical position in order to play for a win, showing an active fighting spirit I had not always shown earlier in the tournament.
  • I had been reluctant to make Pawn breaks in earlier games, but was warming up to the idea that Pawn breaks were important.

In other words, even though the plan was completely misguided, it showed that I was now willing to take risks to unbalance a position. I think an important stage in developing as a chess player is that of trying a different way of thinking, even if it is actually not carried out well. That is better than simply being stuck in a rut, in which case there is no way to improve. Currently, as an instructor and coach, I look for ways in which someone is stuck in a rut, a plateau, and encourage doing something different even if it initially backfires.


I would call the position after move 18 and endgame: a lot of simplification, White a Pawn down, two Rooks and Bishop vs. two Rooks and Knight.

It turned out that neither player knew how to optimize using either the Bishop or the Knight imbalance in the endgame, so the endgame was a typical trading of errors until all the Pawns came off the board and all that was left was a Bishop vs. Knight, so a draw was agreed.

The complete annotated game

Franklin Chen


My 5th Tournament Game: Lessons from an Uncomfortable Miniature

Continuing in my series of posts covering the first chess tournament in my life as a new unrated player and member of USCF, here I present my 5th round game in the 1980 Michigan Open (Reserve Section). It was a very short game, lasting only 12 moves, and only a couple of minutes. This was in a tournament where the time control was the old classical 40 moves in 2 hours, so after the game, I had to hang around for hours waiting for my father to finish his game.

I felt embarrassed by this game, which I won by checkmating my opponent (rated around USCF 1500) on the 12th move. I definitely felt good that I played well and deserved to win, but some things about what happened bothered me.

Lessons I Learned

I had never seen my opponent’s 4th move before in the opening, but just remembered to stay calm and play by ordinary principles of development. He then proceeded to break every opening principle I had learned: he moved his Queen out early, put his Knight on the rim, and even weakened the critical square d5.

I was surprised and disappointed by how quickly and poorly he played. I felt that he did not take me seriously, thinking he could just play garbage against an unrated 10-year-old boy at a time (1980) when very few kids were playing in chess tournaments. I did not believe that his play against matched his 1500 rating. I felt insulted for the first time in the tournament: in my first four rounds, all of my games had been quite hard-fought, no mercy shown me whatsoever. Fortunately, this was the only chess game in my life when I felt that I was not taken seriously because of my age and inexperience.

After the game, my opponent quickly exited to smoke. My assessment of the situation suddenly changed. I concluded that I might have been hasty in assuming he was deliberately insulting me. I thought to myself that he had not looked very well during the game and was fidgety. Maybe as a smoker he was having trouble functioning well because of withdrawal. I felt some compassion for his plight.

Then I got angry again: maybe he had deliberately thrown the game in order to go smoke? Was this possible? I no longer knew what to believe about what had happened, and I did not ask him.

Finally, I felt embarrassed that I had jumped to conclusions that may have simply reflected my own self-consciousness at being the little kid at the tournament. I realized that I could have trapped myself psychologically. From then on, I decided never to think of myself as the kid at the tournament. As long as I didn’t think that, then it wouldn’t matter whether anyone else thought it either. This was the real lesson I learned that day. Whatever was going on with my opponent, I would play the game and aim for the win. I could not control what he thought of me or whether he was sick or whether he was deliberately losing. I could not control any of these things, so it was pointless to dwell on them.

The complete annotated game

Franklin Chen


Amateur Versus Master: Game Ten

This game is another recently completed draw against a chess master. This game is from the final round of the 2011 Golden Knights Correspondence Chess Championship. The first 18 moves were in my database. I was on my own from move number 19 on. So far, I have no wins, one loss and one draw in this section. However, I do have an advantage against a 2300 rated player that I drew in the previous round. We will have to wait and see how that game works out.

Because both sides played aggressively and made solid developing moves neither one of us got an advantage at any point in this game. My strategy against this higher rated player was to trade down into an even endgame. The point where we agreed to a draw was during the transition from the middle game to the endgame. White had more space in the center and the Bishop versus my Knight, but he couldn’t do anything with these slight advantages.

Mike Serovey


My 4th Tournament Game: First Time I Attacked in the Middlegame

In my last three posts here, I analyzed the first three tournament games of my life, as a new unrated player in 1980:

  • I lost the first upon being attacked effectively in the middlegame.
  • I won the second in a very uneven game in which both players simplified quickly and reaching an endgame which I won only because my opponent blundered into an obviously lost King and Pawn endgame.
  • I drew the third after bumbling into an advantageous endgame but not knowing how to win, and allowing simplification to a draw.

Fourth game

My fourth game (my opponent was rated around USCF 1550) is interesting because for the first time in the tournament, I actually had a clear middlegame attacking plan in a blocked position, and correctly followed through on it, castling Queen side and attacking on my opponent’s vulnerable King side with an obvious Pawn break as well as activating my pieces toward that side of the board. For the first time in the tournament, really, I displayed an active search for an initiative in the middlegame.

Unfortunately, a few moves before forced mate, I apparently did not realize the strength of my position and mysteriously simplified repeatedly, into an endgame with a useless Pawn up, and a draw resulted. The irony is that my opponent allowed me at two points the opportunity to trade my Bishop for his Knight, in which case the Pawn-up King and Pawn endgame would have been an easy win for me. Apparently my knowledge of King and Pawn endgames was still very limited, illustrating yet again how important it is to master these basic endgames.

The classic pattern I see in these early games is that of unwarranted simplification in advantageous middlegames and endgames, probably a result of the early emphasis on “counting points” of material, and not realizing that an active piece is worth more than a passive piece.

The complete annotated game

Franklin Chen


Failing to Win a Won Game, Part 3

The following game is one of the first correspondence chess games that I played at the Internet Chess Club (ICC). I don’t know when this game was played nor do I know the ratings of both players at the time that this game was started. According to my notes on this game I lost most of those early games on ICC. Eventually, I won enough games to get my ICC correspondence chess rating over 1700 points. I quit playing correspondence chess there because I was having trouble getting paired into games and because of the repeated time control violations. Some of my opponents were repeat offenders and yet they still got off with warnings! Why have time controls if you are not going to enforce them?

I think that I made a notation error on White’s final move and that the White Queen went to g5 and not g6 on move number 24. Otherwise, my resignation makes no sense at all! Did I really miss the win of the White Queen and resign in a correspondence chess game? In an over the board (OTB) game I could blame such an error on fatigue or a distraction. I have no such excuse in correspondence chess! I prefer to believe that I made a notation error!

I think that I was playing this game without the use of a game database and that was why I didn’t play this opening very well. The first eight moves are typical of what I would play against a Closed Sicilian Defense and I have usually done well with this. My queenside expansion may not have been the best idea and I missed playing f5 at a key point in this game. Playing my Queen to a5 on move number 12 was probably the beginning of a series of small mistakes that lead to my demise. I was also guilty of not developing my Bishop on c8 and thus not connecting my rooks on my back rank. This also caused problems for me. I compounded my errors with pawn grabbing and leaving my King under protected.

Someone stated that the ultimate chess blunder is resigning in a won position. I have done that at least once before this game. Did I make the same blunder here too? At the point where I resigned, I was up a Queen, Rook, Knight and pawn! However, my King was totally naked and had nowhere to run or hide.

Mike Serovey


Lessons From My 3rd Tournament Game: The Nature Of Endgames

I have now shown the first two tournament games of my life, from 1980: I lost the first game and won the second game. My third game, discussed here was a draw.

It was an instructive experience for me in my first tournament to experience all three possible results in the first three rounds! I believe it might have been devastating if, for example, I had lost too many games in my very first tournament. Instead, I was involved in some very long and interesting games from the start.

My opponent was rated around USCF 1500, and this shows in his play.

Common errors in 1500-level chess


In the opening, I had no idea how to play the Black side of a Ruy Lopez. Nobody had taught me the plans for White or Black. I was just winging it. I gave up the center at move 10; my opponent returned the favor by playing apparently mechanical moves that would have applied in a “standard” line, instead of more principled developing moves fitting the situation.

The first thing someone at a 1500 level can do, after mastering basic tactics, is to understand the basic principles of what to try to achieve in the middlegame after the first several opening moves. Many games at this level are decided, unfortunately, by “unorthodox” opening continuations that lead immediately to not knowing how to cope, being outside of one’s memorization. Pointlessly giving up the center for Black should have led to trouble for me, but by accident, actually kept working well for me, against 1500-level opponents, even after this game, because they did not understand what to do any more than I did, and it became almost random who would enter the middlegame with an advantage.


One thing I noticed while looking at my first tournament games, including this third one, was that at the level of play of myself and my opponent, we shuffled a lot of pieces around, either

  • “attacking” without enough backup, or
  • playing passive-looking retreating moves without a clear plan of reactivation.

In particular, I did not understand the importance of looking for Pawn breaks. Here, for example, c5 was crying out to be played, repeatedly. However, I did use a g4 Pawn break to achieve a lasting advantage, so I get some credit for that.

Also, I got into tactical trouble, hanging a piece in an elementary way. Luckily, my opponent got bamboozled and missed an elementary “capture Pawn with check and double attack” that would have left me completely lost, and instead allowed me a recapture with check that led to a Queen trade into an endgame favorable to me!

1500-level chess is still largely decided by big swings in evaluation resulting from missed tactics.


The endgame was an unbalanced one, with Black having a Rook and two Pawns for two minor pieces. It favored Black because of the noticeable lead in development. My opponent as White made the elementary mistake of trading pieces in a bad endgame, rather than keeping them to maximize defensive possibilities. Trading the single remaining Rook led to a terrible Rook and two Pawns versus two Knights endgame.

However, again I did not know yet to aggressively use my Pawns, especially here the Queen side Pawn majority. There was a lot of random shuffling around of pieces, then an insidious swindle by my part when I finally realized I should attack on the Queen side. I succeeded in achieving a tactically won position against the pair of Knights, but never saw the win. After too much simplification, the result was a dead draw.

My observation about 1500-level endgame play is that players trade pieces and Pawns too readily, not realizing that there are times when a trade helps and there are times when a trade harms. As a result, many quick draws happen in actually interesting and unbalanced endgames. The 1500-level player who understands endgames can often survive terrible openings and middlegames and win in the endgame. I wish I had learned this lesson earlier in life. I now think that “working backwards”, by knowing what to aim for in the endgame, and then approaching the middlegame with a goal of reaching a good endgame, and approaching the opening with a goal of reaching a good middlegame, should be addressed by students of chess who have reached a 1500-level and are no longer just making extreme tactical blunders constantly.

The complete annotated game

Franklin Chen


Failing to Win a Won Game, Part 2

This is a game that I played back in 2005. In this case my opponent was the one who failed to win a won game. I had White against a higher rated player and I got surprised by a kingside sacrifice. Then, Nolan got greedy and grabbed the pawn on h4. That gave me time to bring my Rook back to the h file and defend my King. If he had ignored that pawn and continued to check my King he would have checkmated it in the center of the chess board. Because of the pawn grab I was able to trade down into an endgame in which I was up material. After that I simply ran Nolan out of time.

More analysis of this game can be found at

Mike Serovey


Lessons From My 2nd Tournament Game

Last week, I wrote about deciding to analyze my tournament games from over thirty years ago for my own benefit as well as for valuable teaching material. I started off with my first tournament game, from 1980, as an unrated 10-year-old boy, which I lost without much of a fight.

This week, I bring a much more interesting game, my second tournament game that took place probably an hour or two after my first one. This game, played against someone rated around USCF 1400, I ended up winning, but as is typical in games of this level, both sides made serious errors. The nature of these errors is instructive.

Themes to pay attention to

As is typical in weaker amateurs’ games, we were out of opening “book” theory at move 5 in a Petroff Defense, when my opponent played a poor and strange Queen move. I reacted not terribly, but not best either. If I were coaching my younger self now, I would emphasize that general principles apply when facing strange moves in the opening. Here, just because my opponent moved his Queen doesn’t mean that I should also move my Queen!

Quick piece trades into an ending; interesting imbalance of my having the Bishop pair

Typical of games at this level, a lot of piece trades happened, just because they could. Stronger players would evaluate whether it is advantageous to offer a particular trade or to accept one. The trade in this game at move 16 determined the course of the rest of the game: my opponent gave up a Bishop for my Knight, resulting in a permanent imbalance whose significance was not appreciated by either of us, as our endgame shows.

All the trades resulted in an endgame with two Bishops vs. Bishop and Knight, and symmetrical Petroff Pawn structures. I missed the win of a light-squared Pawn on the Queen side: a stronger player would have immediately spotted the possibility, because of Black missing a light-squared Bishop while the Knight was out of play on the other side of the board. When I finally did see the win, I inexplicably did not take the free Pawn. I don’t remember what I was thinking 34 years ago, but perhaps I missed an elementary recapture with check?

Bishop versus Knight, symmetrical Pawns

At move 30, my opponent forced the trade of his remaining Bishop, leaving us with a Bishop versus Knight endgame. This is when things got strange. Neither of us knew what we were doing. We didn’t have clear plans, clear points of attack or defense. We played somewhat randomly. I made the first terrible moves, pushing a Pawn so far, without any support of my King, that it was doomed. Miraculously, my opponent never figured out how to win that Pawn. Apparently, neither of us had been taught that an active King is the most important piece in a minor piece and Pawn ending.

At move 35, an interesting thing happened: my opponent tried to trick me into trading my Bishop for his Knight, which, because of his more active King and position, would have led to a won King and Pawn ending. Critically, in my chess education I had learned the basics of standard King and Pawn endings, so I did not fall into the trap.

At move 44, I made a horrific “active” Pawn push to attack Black’s Knight, but this should have led easily to losing a Pawn by force, if the Knight simply danced around attacking all the Pawns in sight until one fell. Everyone should know basic examples of the special power of the Knight in an ending, especially against a Bishop that can only protect Pawns of one square color!

It turns out that at move 46, I horrifically gave up a Pawn voluntarily anyway. I can deduce what must have happened. There was a Knight check fork after which I could have taken the Knight with my Bishop, leading to a drawn King and Pawn ending, but I must have still felt (from the earlier trick attempt) that any King and Pawn ending was still lost for me. I didn’t evaluate the position as it was, but only thought about a past “similar” position that was in fact critically different. I will confess that even at my much higher level of chess today, I still sometimes fall into the trap of making assumptions based on past positions.

After winning the Pawn, the ending should have been an easy win for Black, but he did not know what to do with his King and Knight, and actually ended up putting his Knight on the rim where it is dim! This enabled me to regain the lost Pawn.

At move 60, my opponent made a random Knight move that I could have punished by invading the King side with my King and mopping up Pawns and Queening. But I did not realize that the situation had changed and I was winning; I did not use my King. I had been defending for 25 moves, basically, since mistakenly advancing my b-Pawn and making it a target. I started retreating again to “defend” my Queen side, rather than win on the King side.

Winning King and Pawn ending

Just as I started retreating, my opponent made a horrific blunder at move 62, moving his Knight such that I could skewer it with a check and trade into an obviously won King and Pawn ending. Apparently, he fell into the mental trap just mentioned earlier of thinking that because at one point, King and Pawn endings were winning for him, they must always be winning for him.

The rest of the game was easy, but I am proud that I cleaned up efficiently. One important part of it was knowing how to win a Queen versus Pawn ending by forcing the defending King to block the Pawn’s Queening square, gaining time. Finally I activated my King in the game! And I won without resorting to my other passed Pawn, just using my Queen and King.

The complete annotated game

Franklin Chen


Poetic Justice

I’ll return to the history of Richmond Junior Club later, possibly next week, but first I’d like to show you a recent RJCC game played between two of my private pupils.

The game started with the French Defence. Black, the older of the two boys, favours this opening. He doesn’t yet know a lot about it, though, as he’s still too young to study chess on his own.

So: 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 (unusual in junior chess where the Exchange and Advance Variations are the usual choices) 3.. Nf6 4. Bd3 (a reasonable developing move, but not played often at higher levels, where Bg5 and e5 are preferred. Now c5 is the most popular reply, but instead Black immediately blunders)

4.. Bd6, and White spotted the opportunity to win a piece, playing 5. e5. This tactical idea, a pawn fork in the centre of the board, happens over and over again in games played by children. There are scores of examples in my Richmond Junior Club database. You’ll rarely come across this in books, though, because at higher levels players see it coming and avoid it. If Black had remembered to ask himself the Magic Question (“If I do that what will he do next?”) he might have chosen something else.

Black decided he ought to gain some compensation for the piece by getting his pieces out quickly, so the game continued 5.. Nc6 6. exd6 Qxd6.

At this level, children tend to think “How can I create a threat?” rather than “How can I put a piece on a better square?”. The next day I was playing Black in a training game against another of my private pupils, younger and less experienced than these two boys. I played the French Defence myself (I usually play 1.. e5 at this level but sometimes mix things a bit) and the game started 1. e4 e6 2. d4 (It took him some time to find this move) 2.. d5 3. exd5 exd5. Now he saw that he could threaten my queen by playing Bg5, reached out his hand, noticed that it wasn’t safe, and instead played the first move he saw that controlled g5: h4. At lower levels children play this sort of move for this reason all the time. I persuaded him that if he wanted to prepare Bg5 he’d be better off developing a piece with Nf3.

Returning to the game in question, then, White decided he’d like to play Bf4 to threaten the black queen, so chose to prepare it with the truly horrible 7. g3. A much more sensible approach to the position would have been simple development with Nf3 and O-O.

Black replied with 7.. e5, opening the centre against the white king, and White, his plan thwarted, looked for another way to threaten the black queen and found 8. Nb5. Black replied 8.. Qe7, defending c7 and eyeing the white king. It’s not so easy for White now as it’s going to be hard to get his king into safety. He played 9. Ne2, blocking the e-file and hoping to castle, but this move had a tactical disadvantage. Again, asking the Magic Question would have led him to an alternative solution.

Black could now regain his piece with 9.. e4, trapping the bishop on d3, another basic recurring tactical idea at this level, but he didn’t notice this and preferred to continue his development with 9.. Bg4. White traded pawns: 10. dxe5 Nxe5, reaching a position where Black has a Big Threat.

White has a few ways to stay in the game here, but instead he failed to ask himself the Magic Question and just developed a piece: 11. Be3, allowing Black to carry out his threat: 11.. Nf3+ 12. Kf1 Bh3# with a pretty checkmate. Poetic justice that Black’s knight and bishop occupied the squares that were weakened by g3, and a salutary lesson for White about how pawn moves can create weaknesses.

Here’s the complete game.

The game I usually use when teaching about pawn forks in the opening is this:

This is a trick worth knowing. Black developed his bishops on c5 and e6 and a knight on c6, giving White the chance to win a piece neatly with 7. d4, followed by d5. He missed his chance but still won a piece the following move when Black fell for another recurring tactic, the queen fork on a4. If 9. Bxb4, 10. Qa4+ wins.

Richard James